Covid quarantine is the best place and time to fart about. In every sense of the word. No books. No television. No screen time. Just close your eyes, unwind, reflect, reminisce, sunbathe on the shores of nostalgia, and occasionally, take a dip in the sea of compunction.
Tall claims, such as we were one of the first to get vaxxed and revaxxed in the UAE and this is our — wifey’s and mine — first infection, don’t fly in the face of the latest wave of the Covid pandemic wherever you are (in our case Kerala, the last lap of our month-long pilgrimage). A journey to discover ourselves as individuals as well as a couple. We were selfish at times but bonded mostly. We stole the last sip of hot water in the dead of the near-zero Celsius nights in the north and then walked into the Covid trap in the south together. We are now fighting the pathogen together, leaving the other fight — over who infected who — for our Dubai days after recovery.
This is our fourth day in this quarantine home, a fairly decent and well-furnished home of a cousin that has been lying locked for a few years now. The beauty of the place is that the quarantine home itself has been in quarantine, with a full monsoon outgrowth of shrubs, hedges and grass all around. This countryside with a vibrant beach face in the west end dotted with resorts, homestays and massage centres is so verdant, the huge swath of green that you see in the day extends to infinity, and the thick mass of dark that surrounds the home in the night overwhelms all your logical senses. You hallucinate. You throw up your legs for fear of reptiles. You feel faint when you look into the black hole of the night.
Welcome to my magical hamlet. So picture-perfect is the natural mise-en-scène of the place that, at times, I wish there were no human actors in the play. There were many: good and bad. Some were hacked to death; some ran for their lives; some migrated to towns and cities; some were jailed, and some became legislators. Sharpen your ears, you could hear the sea wind humming a dirge over our friends martyred on the beach. Sharpen your eyes, you could see the sand and grass still stained by the blood of our comrades. When I sit on the patio of the house, waiting for my Covid supplies to arrive, I’m unable to focus my eyes and mind. Should I write about the virus or the village? Both are equally contagious.
We aren’t morons to beat our chest about the infection. There isn’t much we could do except to follow the protocol. We have done that part and left the rest to fate. A mobile PCR test team came and took samples; the lab reported us positive to the authorities; the ward member came enquiring after our health; and then the Asha worker (accredited social health activist) sent us the medical kit. We tremble like a leaf in the wind when temperatures shoot up. We cough like hell when millions of germs gnarl at our lungs and throat. Our heads throb like a road cutter when the infection seems to peak. In the little time we manage to have in between, Chechi (eldest sister) feeds us jackfruit. In a nutshell, Covid’s a sweet-and-sour fare, after all.
Sitting on this bed where my paternal uncle breathed his last, I feel like Jeff in the 1954 Hitchcockian thriller Rear Window, spying on all movable and immovable things as far as the eyes could see. The landscape hasn’t changed much, looking probably much greener now. It’s unbelievable that the tall jackfruit tree that Chechi harvested yesterday is the one I had planted and nursed once upon a time. It’s amazing that the little golden coconut tree in the backyard, around which all the boys in the family once peed, now rolls its head in the blue skies. When times move linear!
There’re no more boats to ferry schoolchildren in this June deluge; there’s a culvert over the swollen rivulet. No more children splashing water from rain puddles; the school bus picks them and drop them at their doorsteps. No more girls bathing in canals showing their curves; every house has multiple washrooms. Love letters are no more scribbled and passed via notebooks; they are texted and WhatsApped.
Bullock carts that once transported choir, coconut and grocery have disappeared. So have push and pull carts. No more headload fishmongers shouting “fish, fresh fish” roam the heartland; shopping is done online. No more cars leaving a long trail of soot and dust to announce a new movie release; people watch their faves on Netflix. No more urchins netting little freshwater fish with cotton bath towels; they play go-cart in the town.
The village hasn’t changed; villagers have.
“Doesn’t it look like heaven?” fisherman Balan shouts. Once a brisk walker with an oar on his shoulder, Balan is back to toddling.
Let the rain fill all the ponds and rivers. Let the monsoon turn all the mountains and meadows greener. Let the boats fill the fishermen’s pockets. Sorry Balan, I still wouldn’t return here — until this countryside equally belongs to my daughter, your daughter and their daughters. Until they are able to wander the beautiful golden sands, fearless in the moonlight.
A niece calls to remind about the antibiotic.
Chechi calls to ask about the latest oxygen reading.
Don’t forget steaming and drink lots of rasam, says an old flame.
A friend pings to remind about Vitamin C.
“Once you are in the grip of the pandemic, you never know on which side of the line you are, IN or OUT. Vitamin C is your lifeline. Take as much as possible,” he says from his experience.
“Suni, don’t forget to bring six bottles of Vitamin C,” I remind the auto driver.
“Bro, please WhatsApp the prescription.”
“Right away, Bro. Over and out.”
I send him the location map of the ‘pharmacy’ my friend recommended.
“Sorry, Bro, I can’t go to a toddy shop. Over and out.” Suni hangs up with a swear word.
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